When he returned to the house from the SGC, Jack poured himself a large scotch and sat thinking for a while, staring at a photo of Sam, which he placed on the table in front of him. It was the same one he had in his office; one of the photos she'd had taken for their "anniversary".
It really wasn't that much longer than a year ago that they'd first got together. Now he pondered whether they would make it to the second anniversary. They'd only been married a matter of months. Bemoaning the current perilous state of his marriage, he asked himself how could it have fallen apart so quickly, and his heart ached.
How could Sam simply reject him like that? She'd been so cold, so distant, and Jack had thought he was the cold, distant one, that she might find him forbidding, but this time it was Sam. When he saw her smile at him from down in the gate room his heart filled with hope that they could fix whatever it was that had gone so radically wrong in the last few weeks. It seemed that Sam didn't want to do that, or take the time to try. Obviously she didn't believe Jack was worth the effort.
If Jack was the sort of man who would easily cry he would have been crying now; sobbing his poor shattered heart dry. He was upset, yes, but even more he was angry. He had to be angry otherwise he would have been a broken man. Anger kept him alive and sane. How could she treat their marriage with such contempt? The vows they made meant a lot to him, everything, but seemingly she didn't take them anywhere near as seriously.
The scotch slipped down his throat way too easily. Deep down Jack knew that alcohol was no solution. It was a depressant and that was probably the last thing he needed right now. Things were depressing enough already. Logical, however, was not something he was prepared to be at this moment, so he poured another large shot and downed it in one, relishing the heat as it went down, the seemingly numbing effect as it impacted on his senses.
Jack's poor heart despaired. He had loved Sam for such a long time and kept it as hidden and suppressed as possible so he could be the good soldier and commander, so that it did not affect his team or their work. He had been so happy when they finally got together and declared their true feelings, and ecstatic when they made the final commitment and got married. Now he wished he'd kept those feelings buried. Could he have felt worse than this had she gone and married another man?
At least if she had married Shannahan he could have imagined her happy and content and maybe she would have been. Now it appeared that she was miserable and discontented and it was her relationship with Jack that made her that way. That was the bitterest of bitter blows. Jack had so longed to make her happy, and hoped that they would settle down and have the family he yearned for.
He had imagined them in their old age, still madly in love with each other, watching their adult children with their own families, if he lived that long. He had pictured them continuing to hold hands, hug and exchange secret smiles and thoughts without speaking. It was a picture he cherished above everything else he held dear. Previously, when he thought he'd lost her to Pete, he knew he would grow old alone, an embittered and lonely man. Now it seemed that might still happen and the thought made the bile rise to his throat. He'd had such hopes, such dreams!
He downed more scotch to take away that bitter taste, but it wasn't working. It merely made him more miserable and introspective. When Charlie died his chance at contentment had died with him. He would never see his son grow up to become a man and have a family of his own. That was the bitterest of sorrows. With Sam he got another shot at it, a way to make his life right again, to be normal and happy and watch their children grow to become their own people. In an instant that seemed to have gone, leaving him without hope.
With his head a little fuzzy, he decided he needed to leave soon to catch the plane. Jack didn't want to risk her coming home to find him there drunk and miserable. He had no wish for her to see the havoc she'd wrought with his heart, so got up and fetched his small suitcase, looking around his old home nostalgically before placing the case on the floor near the couch and sitting again to finish his drink before he left. Then he heard the key in the door. He'd left it too long; she was back. He let the anger take over from the depression. It was way easier for him to let her see the rage than what truly lay in his battered, bruised and blackened heart.
Sam walked into the room and eyed him, the scotch, and the suitcase sitting close by. He said nothing, merely looking at her, but she caught his despair as well as his anger before his eyes strayed back to the glass of scotch. He finished it and poured another large one, taking a sip and staring stubbornly at the amber liquid, his lips thin and angry and eyes ablaze with hostility.
"Don't leave Jack," she said.
"So we can talk when you want to, but not when I do?" His tone was acerbic and she couldn't blame him for that.
Why had she been so wretched to him? Deep down, she knew why, and now she had to explain it or she'd lose him and, despite how it might seem, she didn't want that. Sam loved him, and cared deeply, but she was scared.
"I'm sorry," she said, approaching him.
"Is that meant to make everything alright?"
"No, but we do need to talk Jack. So I'm sorry. I didn't mean to push you away."
Jack didn't believe that. She had done it deliberately but he just didn't know her reasons. Maybe if he did they could start to fix this. Only a few short weeks ago, they had been happy. Could they get that back?
"Yes, you did," he responded coldly, unwilling to give her an inch of room for manoeuvre, and she sighed, moving towards him.
"I don't want to lose you Jack." She knelt in front of him, taking his hands. "Please look at me."
Jack didn't want to do that because he knew all would be lost in the depths of her blue eyes. He needed to maintain some control, and some dignity. He needed respect, and love. When he failed to look at her, she lifted a hand to his face, smoothing his cheek affectionately. He couldn't help himself. He looked.
So that he could avoid how that made him feel Jack pushed her away, getting up, striding over to the other side of the room and turning his back to her. Sam winced at the reaction but knew why he did it. He would not allow her back in so easily. She had to work for it, she had to fight. She understood him better than he realised.
Jack was simply trying to protect his broken heart. He'd suffered too much heartache during his lifetime and she had added to it. Sam was not proud of that fact. She realised this moment would be no easy ride for Mrs Samantha O'Neill, figuring she didn't deserve it to be, but fervently hoping she could still make it right.
"Jack, please, we need to talk. I was wrong. I shouldn't have sent you away. Please listen to me."
"And give you the chance you didn't give to me? Screw you Sam! I came here to talk and you didn't want to. Why should I give you that chance?"
"Because you love me? Because you don't want our marriage to end in ruins anymore than I do?"
"If it ends like that who's to blame Sam?" he turned to face her, his expression filled with fury. "I'm the one who did all the running here and you just threw it back in my face. So why don't you go back to the SGC and leave me alone? I'll be leaving soon and you won't need to worry about it any more. You don't want me? Well that suits me fine!"
"But I do want you Jack. I love you."
"Yeahsureyabetchya," he said sarcastically, "you made that so totally clear."
"What can I do to make you listen, to make you understand? Tell me, Jack. I'll do anything."
He said nothing to that, simply turning his back stubbornly, as she might have guessed he would. Walking over to him, she tried to grasp an arm but he shook her off.
"Look at me, Jack. Please look at me?" she sobbed.
His heart started to thaw a little to that sound. He had always hated doing anything that caused Sam pain. It was a hard habit to break. Turning to face her, Jack saw tears in her eyes, and so nearly just took her into his arms, but he didn't. His expression showed nothing of his feelings and she searched his eyes, hoping to see something there, but didn't. They remained cold and hard, but she believed they were part of the shell that he had built up to protect himself. They didn't show her husband's true feelings. He was trying to bury those .
"You came here to talk Jack. That means you wanted to fix this. Don't let it slip away like I nearly did. Give me a chance. I'm here and I love you. Doesn't that count for anything anymore?"
"Love me? You sure have a strange way of showing it."
"I know I've treated you badly. I didn't give you the respect or the love you deserve so very much. I should have said what I needed to say while I was in Washington, but I couldn't face it. I have some reasons for that, Jack. Give me the chance to explain them, please."
Jack said nothing but nodded briefly. She was right. He had come here for this and now he was rejecting the chance. He needed that chance as much as she did and knew it. Making an effort to let his anger subside, he went and sat back on the couch, with Sam following and sitting close-by.
Such a short time ago, his hopes and dreams had been ripped to shreds. He'd been drowning in misery, but Sam had thrown him a lifeline. It was the act of a stupid man to refuse the opportunity to be saved, if that was possible. He really wanted it to be possible.
Cutting his nose off to spite his face might be O'Neill like sometimes, but he had to face his fear and swallow his pain and pride. After all, he'd look pretty foolish without a nose and Sam was as much a part of him as any part of his own body. That didn't mean he had to make it easy for her, only possible.
"Please hold me," she said.
'Jeez,' he thought, 'Daniel was so right about that mass of contradictions.'
"I don't think so. I'm not ready to do that." He saw her sorrow at his rejection and took a kind of satisfaction from hurting her. She deserved it. "Are you going to tell me what's going on?" he asked.
"I've got a couple of days off, Jack. Are you going to stay?"
She searched his eyes again and saw confusion, pain and anger, taking some small comfort from the fact that at least he seemed to be showing something of his emotions, probably unwittingly because she recognised the effort on the contours of his face as he struggled to maintain control.
"I don't know. Maybe. I guess it depends on what you say." His voice was even, unemotional and distant.
"I want you to. Please stay."
"I need to know. I need to understand."
"I'm not sure I understand myself."
She took his hand but he pulled away, turning to face her, but not confrontationally. She'd hurt him and he still felt anger, and could be stubborn, but he wasn't stupid. He had come to the Springs to have this conversation so couldn't turn his back on it now the time had come.
Jack was thinking about all those years of wanting, sacrificing and waiting for the chance to love her and let her love him. He couldn't waste all of that. They'd been through too much and he wouldn't allow it to end up meaning nothing.
"Then how can I? It took a lot for me to come here, Sam, and then. I love you and want to be with you, but you've hurt me. How do you expect me to act? What do you want from me?"
Sam was surprised he was willing to admit those feelings at that moment. At heart she knew he loved her and wanted to be with her, but for him to expose it right now, while hurt and angry and with no explanation for her behaviour, was nothing short of miraculous. It meant a great deal, and proved it also meant a whole hell of a lot to Jack too.
"I love you too, you must know that," she said.
"I don't think I know anything anymore. The last couple of weeks have been pure hell. You've been so cold on the phone; we didn't exactly part on the best of terms. Explain it to me. Please. Why do you want to hurt me?"
Again, he surprised her with his candour. He was giving a lot more of himself than she'd expected.
"I don't. I didn't mean." she tailed off because she knew it wasn't true.
"I'm gonna make coffee," He declared abruptly, "I need a clear head." Putting down his glass, he eschewed the alcohol, "Do you want some?" he asked and she shook her head.
"I'll get juice," she said.
Sam followed him out to the kitchen, discarding her jacket and shoes along the way. As she entered, he stood with his back to her making the coffee and she came up behind him, wrapping him in her arms, sprawling along the length of his back. His hand instinctively reached for hers.
Even though he didn't understand what had happened, he did understand that she needed and wanted him now. He needed and wanted her too. His reaction was as much of a surprise to him as it was to her. Already he was letting her back in and he still knew nothing of why she had behaved so hurtfully.
"Can you forgive me?" she asked.
"I don't know. I'm not even sure what I'm forgiving you for."
Sam could sense the resentment in those words, but also a willingness to listen, and was grateful.
"I will try to explain it, really I will. I just can't. find the right words right now."
That was a dilemma he could relate to, so he squeezed her hand and then gently prized her off so he could turn to face her.
"Will we work this out?" he questioned, hating the doubts and fear that lurked inside.
"We must. I hope so. I want us to."
"Then that's a start. It will do for now. We'll both find the words, soon."
"I don't deserve you. I don't deserve you to accept without question, to love me like that."
"I don't just accept, but I am prepared to be patient, and I do love you."
"I needed to hear that, that you love me."
"Sam, you know very well how I feel about you. Maybe I don't express it as well as I might, or as often, but that's me and I can't be any different to the way I am. I'm never gonna stop loving you," he confessed, "what makes you doubt it?"
She didn't respond and, recognising her doubt because it was so close to his own, Jack wondered why she felt like that. What had he done to make her doubt him? What had happened? Was this his fault? He was at a loss to know the answer, so he had to be patient, wait and listen.
Even if Sam didn't deserve that chance, he did. He wanted that chance for himself, that chance for the normal life he dreamed of. There was no point in rejecting that opportunity because he would harm himself and his future so very badly if he did. His pride and anger took a back seat. Maybe he could forgive her, maybe he couldn't. There was only one way to find out.
It wasn't easy, but he loved Sam and had to give them every opportunity, not allow everything between them to simply slip away. It was clear that she still loved him and that was more important than pride and all the rest of those pesky negative emotions that could stand in their way. It had taken years to get where they were and he couldn't simply let them be destroyed so easily, or quickly.
Eyes slightly watery with emotion, he pulled her into a hug, blinking back the tears that threatened to fall and holding her close, swaying rhythmically as if to comfort them both. When they went back to the living room with their drinks, they sat together and he put an arm around her shoulder, while she rested her head close to his.
Sam was pleasantly shocked by his behaviour. Although she had been trying to get him to make this concession, she hadn't really expected it to happen without a lot more effort. She knew, however, that this was a temporary truce. Unless she explained herself Jack would withdraw again and become that hard nut she had been so intent on cracking for months.
"Daniel figures I should have begged you to stay in Washington, that maybe you're pissed because I didn't. Should I have done that Sam?"
"You talked to Daniel about this?"
"Briefly. Don't be angry. I needed a friend."
"I'm not angry, I'm just surprised."
"I know I'm a master at keeping it in Sam, but sometimes even I need to let it out a little. I can't keep it all bottled up inside of me forever. I'll explode. Are you going to answer my question?"
"He might be right. I think he's a little right."
"I don't get it. You wanted to come back, we both know it."
"But I didn't want to leave you."
"You think I let you go too easily?"
"You don't know?"
"I expected you to. make more of a fuss."
"So it pissed you off that I didn't?"
"And if I had, what then? I know how important your career is to you. I never wanted to screw it up, to get in the way of it, you know that."
"Yes, I know it."
She parted from him, pulling her legs onto the couch and tucking them up to her chin, so she could look into his face. He deserved to see her feelings as well as hear them. One of her arms was wrapped around her knees to keep balance while the other fingered his brow, and cheek, brushing over his lips. He sighed, closing his eyes momentarily, and when he opened them again, she was staring right into his soul through them.
"I was so torn, Jack. I'd been thinking about it for ages. When I came back to the SGC, before, I thought of nothing much else on the plane on the way home. I was happy with you, but not in Washington, not with my work. It irritated me that you didn't seem to notice."
"I know that now, but I didn't then."
"Then I got home and you were dressed to kill, in a tux, and looked so handsome and sexy. And you proposed. I wasn't going to say no a second time, Jack. I knew it would kill you if I did. Don't look at me like that. It's not why I said yes. I wanted to marry you, and was so happy when you asked me again. I thought maybe you wouldn't, that you'd changed your mind. I hoped you would ask. So I tucked all those qualms about work away for another day. But I shouldn't have done that. I should have forced the issue before we got married, before I said yes. We should have discussed our future, Jack, how we were going to deal with things, but we never did."
Jack was a little stunned by her long flow of words. During her diatribe his emotions had run a gamut and he still wasn't sure what she was trying to tell him.
"You regret it? Getting married?" he braved asking, voice choked with emotion as if afraid of her response.
He considered her face and eyes, believing her and feeling a profound sense of relief. This meant they could be saved.
"Then I still don't understand." Suddenly, a thought hit him right between the eyes. "You're blaming me for that, aren't you? That we didn't talk, that I never asked you what you wanted to do after we were married, that we never confronted our feelings about it. You're blaming me!"
"I think I might be a little." Jack looked at her in dismay. "I know that logically I shouldn't, but it isn't always easy to be logical."
"That's just great coming from Madam Logic herself!" he snapped, angry that she blamed him when all he'd been doing was trying to give her the freedom to live her life as she chose and merely let him be a part of it.
"You think I shouldn't be angry? Well I am angry. Damned angry. You should have told me how you felt."
"You said you knew."
"A little, maybe, but not." he sighed heavily, scrubbing his hands through his hair, frustrated at his inability to express what he wanted. "You didn't seem to want to talk about it and I thought we'd do that eventually, when the time came."
"The time was already there, it had passed us long ago."
"But I didn't know that. Sam, don't you get it? I can't read your mind! Jeez, women always expect you to read their minds." He sighed with frustration and thought about his next words before he spoke. "I would have done whatever you wanted. You only had to ask me, talk to me."
"You don't need to give up what you want for me."
"Neither do you. And, by the way, we never discussed what I wanted either. What I still want."
"You're right. I'm sorry. What do you want Jack?"
"You. It's simple, see, just like me."
Sam gasped with a surprised "Oh!" and he sighed, running his hands through his hair and giving himself time to think before he continued.
"I realise its more complicated than that, Sam, but I guess that's the bottom line. That doesn't mean I'll do anything or put up with anything to get you, but I want to work it out."
Sam didn't respond with words, simply pulling her legs round to kneel on the couch and reaching to take him in her arms.
"You are far from simple by the way," she whispered, "even if you would love to believe that about yourself."
"I'm not as complicated as you."
"That's only from your perspective," she replied and those words made him laugh for some reason. She was right, of course.
"I guess it's all a matter of perspective. Maybe we need to share each other's every once in a while, huh?"
"You are so not good at that Jack O'Neill."
"I know, but I can try. I will try."
"So will I."
"Okay. That's good, then, yeah?" He kissed her hair, her cheek, her brow, and rubbed his thumb just in front of her ear, fingering the hair behind it.
"That's not all Jack."
"Tell me." He cradled her, waiting for her to continue.
"I want to be able to be happy with just you, and hate myself for not being. I hate that I so want my career, that I can immerse myself in my work and almost forget you exist. I told you I'd give it up for you, but it isn't true, is it?"
"We both spent years working our butts off and almost forgetting each other existed, Sam. You know I never wanted or expected you to give it all up for me anymore than you want me to for you."
"Shouldn't I be able to?"
"Why? Because you're a woman and that's what expected? It's not what I expect from you. I fell for a woman who is her own person, not an appendage to Jack O'Neill! So, why does it have to be you?"
"It shouldn't have to be either of us."
"Sam, we both need our own lives outside of each other. That's only logical. As much as I'd love to spend every moment possible with you, neither of us would like that and we'd drive each other nuts. But when we do get time to be together, it makes those moments I spend with you all the more precious; every one of them." His words moved Sam.
"That's a lovely thing to say."
"It's true, isn't it?"
"Yes it's true."
"Well then, we could try make it work with you here, me in Washington. It isn't so very far away, but maybe I want us to be together more than that allows, Sam. I don't mind distance or separation; I've managed that for most of my life. Military, married, duty. Been there already." He brushed a stray hair away from her face with a finger, kissing her forehead tenderly. "Or maybe I want more than that now. Maybe I could just come home."
"Sure, here. My heart's here. You're here."
"You'd be bored."
"I'd find something to do with my time. For crying out loud, I don't want to sit on my butt doing nothing all day. That is for sometimes, not forever but, hell, I might not even have to retire. Maybe the US Air Force would pay me as a consultant at the SGC, or something. I don't know. Maybe I can arrange something and I certainly won't know unless I ask. Look, Sam, my career's almost over anyway so it doesn't much matter anymore. Yours is more important. I'll go back to Washington in a couple of days and tell then I want out; see what happens."
"You'd do that?"
"I'm gonna do that."
"I can't let you do that, Jack. We still need you. You said something about trying to make it work with me here and you there."
"We can try it that way for a while if you like. I know I'd miss the hell out of you every single day. Not sure I want that. I love coming home each day knowing you'll be there. I love sharing my life with you."
"Me too, flyboy."
She leaned forward and kissed him, stopping the smile that was forming on his face with her lips, but the smile was still there on the inside.
"Does this mean we fixed it?" she asked.
"No, but we fixed some of it. We don't have to try fixing everything at once. We've both got a couple of days going spare. This is why I came here, Sam."
She nodded, pleased that he had because it was what she'd wanted to happen, despite her initial resistance. Also surprised that he had because he could be stubborn and unforgiving. The fact that he wasn't told her so much that she needed to know right now.
"Have we fixed it enough so I can make love to you, Jack?"
"Make love to me? You want to seduce me?"
He was stunned by that proposal after Sam's recent aloofness and rejection, initially unsure of how to react or respond.
"Yes I do. I've missed you so much."
She caressed his hand, smoothing over his knuckles and then lifting it to her face and kissing them. Jack considered her proposition. He'd missed her too, and making love with her. Apart from that one occasion a few days before she'd left for the SGC, their lovemaking had always brought them closer together, emphatically proving their feelings in a way that words alone were inadequate to do. Now, he was willing to let that happen again, and yearned for it.
"I think I could handle it," he grinned, letting her take control, lead him to the bedroom, strip and seduce him.
This was true lovemaking, her gift to him. She was loving, gentle, slow and delicate. Recalling that night in Washington, when he had screwed her like a common whore because that was what she'd wanted, he realised this was the first time they'd had sex since then. It was so utterly different; so filled with emotion: love.
It reminded him of the night he'd proposed, which held a special place in his memory. They had great sex that night - the best - and, after a tux ripping passionate seduction, she had made love to him slowly and with so much feeling. This lovemaking now restored his faith that they were well on their way to fixing what had gone wrong.
Afterwords, she lay in his arms and whispered in his ear.
"Jack, I need to tell you something." She sounded nervous so he squeezed in encouragement. "I'm pregnant."
"W-what? P-pregnant? Sam, I. Pregnant? Wow! That's great news, honey. It is, isn't it? Unless... Oh!"
Appalled, he realised that this was part of what had come between them and sat up abruptly, emotions in turmoil once more. Sam was pregnant but had never told him. This could only mean one thing; that she had doubts about their baby and, perhaps, about having a baby at all. Was this the thing she'd confessed that they should have discussed before getting married? Not her career after all but that she didn't want kids?
Jack felt queasy. She'd just made love to him, lulling him into her arms, and now this revelation gave him doubts when there had been hope. It was a slap in the face after such a truly awesome and, he had believed, loving union. She had kept it from him, deceived him. He felt betrayed.